Roman Road in Winter

I’ve written in previous blogs about the Roman road running through the Eden valley and then to the Stainmore Gap across the Pennines. A good section in open countryside runs from the town of Appleby to Powis House, near to the village of Long Marton.Roman Road Feb18 001.JPG

A good section, but one that nature is in a fight – a winning fight – to take back from the Roman Empire.

Trees and thick undergrowth are encroaching on to the line of the road, and some of the lower sections are awash with water – though it is February, of course, and the road is dryer in summer. How damaging this is to the archaeology I’m not sure. I suspect it’s been a while since archaeologists examined the state of the road.Roman Road Feb18 002.JPG

While the engineering of the road is undoubtedly Roman, I don’t believe for a moment that the Romans pioneered this route. A look at the archaeology across the Eden Valley and the Stainmore Gap suggests to me that there must have been a prehistoric trail which the Roman surveyors adapted and improved for their own use. I believe the same might be said about the more famous High Street in the Lake District.Roman Road Feb18 004.JPG

As a bridleway, this section of the Roman road is in imminent danger of being obstructed by overgrowth, and the muddy conditions make walking hard work. Time the Ramblers footpath officer had a look.

We plodded along it and it certainly provides an historic atmosphere, though we didn’t feel inclined to walk back the same way, instead taking the lanes to Long Marton and then back to Appleby.Roman Road Feb18 007.JPG

A balance has to be struck between the preservation of our precious archaeology and giving nature its head. I feel that, as far as this section of the Roman road is concerned, it’s gone too far in the latter direction.


All pictures (c) John Bainbridge 2018

My new country walking and outdoors blog is coming soon…


Snowdrops in Cumbria

Surely Cumbria must be one of the best places in Britain to see snowdrops? There are clumps of these lovely plants absolutely everywhere at the moment.

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Snowdrops in Flakebridge Wood (c) John Bainbridge 2018

A week ago we walked up to Flakebridge Wood from Appleby, several muddy miles after the vanishing of the snow and a lot of rain. This was one to get the old boots muddy on…

A day of mixed weather too – as we wandered the first fields there was a fierce snowstorm, followed by a warm and brighter day of sunshine and clear blue skies.

Just north of the noisy A66 road at Appleby is a quieter near-deserted stretch of lane – a modest bit of highway. But important as it follows the course of the Roman road which once led through the Eden valley and across the Stainmore Gap. (More on this in my next blog). Interesting to think of the legions marching this way before the nearby (Viking) town of Appleby even existed.

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Lime Lane (c) John Bainbridge 2018

We followed the footpath around the back of Fair Hill – where the Gypsies come to camp each June.

But in past centuries it was better known as Gallows Hill, the place where men and women were brought from the Appleby Assizes to be “hanged by the neck until they be dead”. Most of the folk ‘turned off’ here were, of course, the poor and desperate rather than hardened criminals. You could be hanged for starving and stealing a loaf of bread.

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Esplandhill and Frith Lane (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Over the side of Hangingshaw Hill and into Lime Lane, a very pleasant enclosed green track, which I suspect was longer in the hanging days, to Clickham Farm. We were pleased to see that this lane had been cleared of overgrowth since we last used it, when I reported it to the Ramblers via their Pathwatch App. (Worth getting, you can use it on your computer if you haven’t got a smartphone).

Along the lane then to Esplandhill Farm, where we were greeted by a friendly farmer as we made our way along Frith Lane (another green track) to Flakebridge Wood.

Much of this shooting preserve is out of bounds, though there are a few rights of way. One of those bits of woodland we should reclaim under the Charter of the Forest (see blogs passim).

This mixed woodland showed us some pleasant patches of snowdrops. A lovely touch at this time of year.

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The Edge of Forbidden Flakebridge (c) John Bainbridge 2018

We followed the Well House Lane back to Appleby – as this leads nowhere but to the wood it is quiet as far as traffic is concerned.

Appleby – once the County Town of Westmorland, until that county was abolished. One of the castle homes of Lady Anne Clifford, whose 17th century diaries are well-worth a read. A place of the Assizes, where men and women made their last journey to an unfair trial and the gallows. A town founded by settling Vikings. Once part of Scotland and therefore not in the Domesday Book, it’s castle besieged several times in our history.

A town so recently flooded in Storm Desmond, but still here.

A place that changed its name to Appleby-in-Westmorland to preserve its ancient honours.

A town whose green places are covered with snowdrops at the moment.


Fight for Woodland Access

Last year marked the 800th anniversary of the Charter of the Forest, an historic document that gave common people the right of access to forest land. Please support the Ramblers campaign.

This can be seen as the first step in a campaign spanning centuries, seeking the legal guarantee of freedom for people to access England’s beautiful landscapes. In more recent years we have seen the Kinder Scout trespass, the founding of the Ramblers, the establishment of National Parks and National Trails, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act, the right to create the England Coast Path, among many other achievements. See our timeline below for the full history!

At this anniversary we are not only celebrating the last 800 years of access, but we are also looking forward to the next 800 years.

It may surprise you that today, only 40% of woodland in England and Wales is accessible to the public, and much of this doesn’t have a permanent right of access, meaning it could be closed off at any time. Our recent YouGov survey revealed that people want increased access to woods and forests more than any other type of land.

In response, we are calling on the government to improve access to the beautiful woodlands of England and Wales. Add your voice to this call by signing our petition here.

This anniversary really brings to life the long history of the struggle for greater access to the countryside, a mission that is very close to many people’s hearts. But what do people want for the next 800 years? Now is your chance to help shape the future of access. Share your views in our survey here.

Sign the petition

Join us by putting your names against our calls as we look forward to the future of access.

A Walk Into Prehistory

I’ve written before about the important antiquities at Moor Divock and Askham Fell.

This is a good time to get out and study our archaeology, given that in winter vegetation is down and prehistoric remains are much easier to see.Moor Divoc Feb18 003

Every walker should try and understand as much a possible about the history of the landscape they are walking through. You don’t need a degree in archaeology, there are many excellent books for beginners. Try the cheap little books by Shire Publications, which feature individual volumes on a host of archaeological topics – such as stone circles, barrows, Roman roads, causewayed enclosures etc etc.Moor Divoc Feb18 018

The British countryside is under endless threat. The land we enjoy might not be there for future generations unless we fight for it now.

Understanding its history is crucial in those battles.Moor Divoc Feb18 010

And please do support at least one of the many voluntary societies fighting to protect this precious land – and your right to walk in it.Moor Divoc Feb18 017

Put Moor Divock into the Search space above for walks in this beautiful area.

(c) All pictures John Bainbridge 2018

Journeys into Forbidden Britain

For just one week from tonight, my book The Compleat Trespasser – Journeys Into Forbidden Britain is available for just 99 pence/cents as a Kindle read for your smartphone (with a free Kindle App) or to read on a Kindle device or laptop. 

It’s also out in paperback.dscf8425

Walk Magazine in its review said:

“On a vagabonding tour through Britain’s most delightful countryside and forbidden tracts, Bainbridge charts the history of access and assesses the present state of the law.

Villainous landowners feature; so do the likes of GHB Ward and CEM Joad, calling at rallies for access to mountain and moor. Gamekeepers, spring-guns and mass trespasses also get a look-in.

Redolent of country air, with nature and archaeology dealt with in graphic style, the book evokes the age of campaigns before words like ‘stakeholder’ and ‘partnership’ were hatched out.

The author lends his support to the England Coast Path campaign and calls for the Scottish access model to be extended throughout Britain. It’s thought-provoking stuff and well worth a read.”

Some of the great figures in British history trespassed, including Winston Churchill, A.Wainwright, Ramsey MacDonald, William Wordsworth – the list goes on…

Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

ABOUT THE COMPLEAT TRESPASSER: In 1932, five ramblers in England were imprisoned for daring to walk in their own countryside. The Mass Trespass on to Kinder Scout, which led to their arrests, has since become an iconic symbol of the campaign for the freedom to roam in the British countryside.

The Compleat Trespasser – Journeys Into The Heart Of Forbidden Britain, written by outdoors journalist and novelist John Bainbridge, looks at just why the British were – and still are – denied responsible access to much of their own land.

This ground-breaking book examines how events through history led to the countryside being the preserve of the few rather than the many.

It examines the landscapes to which access is still denied, from stretches of moorland and downland to many of our beautiful forests and woodlands.

An inveterate trespasser, John Bainbridge gives an account of some of his own journeys into Britain’s forbidden lands, as he walks in the steps of poachers, literary figures and pioneer ramblers.

The book concludes with a helpful chapter of “Notes for Prospective Trespassers”, giving a practical feel to this handbook on the art of trespass. At a time when government is putting our civil liberties at threat, destroying the beauties of our countryside, and your right to access it, this book is a most useful read.

John Bainbridge has been a country walker for over fifty years. He was recently commended by the Ramblers Association for his many years of campaigning service to the rambling movement. He is the author of some thirty books and hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles, mostly about the countryside and outdoor life.

John is also the author of the historical novels LoxleyWolfshead and Villain, chronicling the adventures of Robin Hood – one of Britain’s most notorious trespassers – as well as the thriller Balmoral Kill and the William Quest mystery novels.

Have a subversive rambling week  with The Compleat Trespasser…

Just click on the link below to order or start reading…

Snow on the Howgills

Well, snow on the highest summits of the Howgill Fells anyway, though the lower slopes – apart from the tracks – were quite clear. But on this clear day there were views right down to Arnside and Morecombe Bay, though we couldn’t quite make out Blackpool Tower.Arrant Haw and Winder 018

We had a morning’s walk up from Sedbergh, to Arrant Haw and then back via Winder. I like the Howgill Fells and all the more splendid that they are now in the Cumbrian part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park – and much more of our precious countryside deserves National Park status.Arrant Haw and Winder 024

I like Sedbergh too, a splendid little book town, where you can happily browse the shelves of second-hand books having completed the walk. VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

It’s a while since we last walked on the Howgills and it was good to be back. These round friendly giants – didn’t Wainwright compare them to sleeping elephants – are a pleasure to walk over, and the snow on the tops was of the deep and playful kind.

We followed the Settlebeck Gill up on to the long bulging ridge of this chain of hills and then followed the very easy track up to Arrant Haw. Not the highest point, but, because of its isolation a terrific viewpoint, with grand views all round. The distant line of the Lakeland mountains looking positively Alpine in their snowy glory.VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

Then down to Winder, the fell that is very much Sedbergh’s own hill. Winder (pronounced like the windows George Formby used to clean in the song) is an easy delight. But magnificent for a minor summit.

Then back to Sedbergh for a long browse in the bookshops.

A splendid way to spend a winter’s day.Arrant Haw and Winder 023All pictures (c) John Bainbridge 2018 – click on them to enlarge

Walking through History

One walk of a dozen miles, but thousands of years of British history, from Romano-British settlements to medieval and Tudor deer parks, old droving routes used by Scots herding cattle into England, and railways built in Victorian times by hard-working navvies.Smardale Fell Walk 007

Walkers in this country are fortunate to be able to experience the palimpsest that is our history so readily. We should never take it for granted, for our countryside and wild places are always under threat.

Friday was one of those warmer winter days, as we set out from Kirkby Stephen to explore the countryside around Smardale Fell and Ash Fell. Remote much of it and mostly empty of people. Only where we had to cross two main roads was there much sense of being in the 21st century.

The first part of the walk followed Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Path from Kirkby and out on to Smardale Fell, though we had to make a small diversion at the edge of the town to avoid men trimming trees.

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An ancient fellside track

You are not much beyond Greenriggs Farm before you start to get a sense of the wildness and history of this landscape. The stone-walled enclosures themselves are probably some centuries old, telling their own historical tale of man’s wresting of the wild fellside from nature.

These rights of way, footpaths and bridleways, are almost certainly older than the intakes they cross. When you walk this land you are in the footsteps of those who journeyed this way for thousands of years.

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The Romano-British settlement

On Smardale Fell are tumuli dating to the Bronze Age. Just before we passed under the line of the Settle to Carlisle railway, are the homes and fields of a Romano-British settlement, which faded out of history sometime around 800 AD, when Saxons and Vikings had come here and the might of Rome was but a distant memory.

The railway line itself, still happily in use, is a reminder that the Victorians made their mark on this land. Imagine how hard the navvies worked in this wild place, probably in the most appalling weather, to construct the line in the years between 1869 and 1876.

As we climbed towards the highest points of Smardale Fell, the view opened out – there were the Howgill Fells and the distant hills of Lakeland, the mighty northern Pennines, still touched by the last of the snow, the deep valleys of the River Eden and River Lune, filled with cloud inversions like long white ghosts.

This is a landscape of grouse, which suddenly burst from the heather with their whirring cries of warning.

We left the Coast to Coast path and took the path over The Riggs to Fell Road, a humble road from the Lune Valley once, but now the busy main road from Tebay to Kirkby Stephen.

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Wharton Hall

After a long stretch through wild and peaceful it comes almost as a shock to encounter motor traffic, with its noise and fumes. Fortunately, we only had to follow a hundred yards of the road, some of it the remnants of its original line which disappeared with road widening in the 1960s.

We were out now on Ash Fell Edge, following the wall above Ashfell Farm to Lytheside Farm. Here there are good views to Ravenstonedale and the Howgills – some of the best walking areas in Cumbria.

After Lytheside, we walked past Tarn House, looking down on the stretch of water from which it takes its name, and then down Tommy Road – a lovely old byway ruined by litter (why do some Britons have to be so filthy?), then on to the path to Low House and Wharton Hall.

As the wide gap in the walls indicate, these were drovers’ tracks; the way hardened men brought the beasts from the Scottish Borders to sell at the English markets, over so many years. A trade that existed until taken over by the Victorian railways and then motor traffic. Droving was a very skilled profession. For the drovers it was important to move the herd swiftly but not callously – the price they got depended on the animals being in good condition.

Much of this country was part of Lord Wharton’s deer park. A scene of conflict between a landowner and the peasants. Communities were moved so that Wharton could have the pleasures of the chase.

I’ve written about Wharton Hall in a previous blog. The ancestral home of the Wharton family dates to the 1300s, though much of what you see now in Tudor. It played little part in the wider history of England, though King James I visited. Now it’s a working farm, but the buildings and the Tudor gatehouse are impressive.

We followed the drive down to Halfpenny House – this is now a modern home, but the original building which once stood here was a place where the drovers rested for the night, paying a halfpenny as a fee.

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World War Two Pillbox

But look back up the hillside, on to Whinny Hill and there’s a link with our more recent history, a pill-box built for the military c.1940, when the folk of this quiet place anticipated a visit from the troops of Hitler’s Third Reich.

Happily, the invasion never happened or this quiet hillside might well have been a killing ground. There are some historic possibilities I’m glad our country escaped.

We wandered back down the long street of Kirkby Stephen, busy with traffic. It’s a town I’ve always had a fondness for. A Walkers are Welcome town.

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The Kirkby Stephen road sign, sensibly measured in miles and furlongs.

A place to begin walks into so many periods of time.

All pictures (c) John Bainbridge 2018: (click on them to enlarge).